Astronomy 340: Spring 2011

"Origin of the Universe"

Cosmic Web (Ricotti 2002) 

The course is an introduction to modern Cosmology intended primarily for non-science majors. We will study the progression of our knowledge about the origin and evolution of the universe through history, with particular emphasis on modern cosmological results. Topics include: early cosmological models, geocentric vs. heliocentric theory, curvature of space, Hubble's Law, Big Bang Theory, microwave background radiation, evolution of stars and galaxies, dark matter, active galaxies, quasars and the future of the universe. Modern Cosmology uses the laws of Physics to construct models of the universe that describe how it evolved from simple initial conditions. The current cosmological paradigm has been quite successful at explaining many of the amazing aspects of the Universe around us. In order to do so, however, cosmologists introduced new concepts such as ``dark matter'' and ``dark energy''. What physics are behind these concepts, and whether such hypotheses will stand the test of time, is the subject of much current research.

What's New

Course Prerequisite

The course is intended for non-science majors and assumes high-school-level algebra, and either ASTR 100 or 101 as a prerequisite. However, expect the homework and exams to be challenging if you have little practice or you are rusty at problem solving. See also the official UMD info on this course.


    Instructor:   Massimo Ricotti
    Class:        room CSS 2400
    Lectures:     Tuesday and Thursday from 2:00pm to 3:15pm
    First class:  Tu Jan 25 
    Last  class:  Tu May 10
    Midterm exam: Th Mar 17 from 2:00pm to 3:15pm
    Final exam:   Monday May 16th from 10:30am to 12:30pm

Contact info and Notes

Instructor: Massimo Ricotti

Teaching assistant/Grader: KwangHo Park


Required Textbook:
Foundations of Modern Cosmology 2/e, by John F. Hawley and Katherine A. Holcomb. Oxford University Press, ISBN 0-19-853096-X
Authors' web site for the textbook

Course Outline

The Syllabus is available in HTML and PDF format.

DateLectureReading (Textbook)Notes
Part I: History of Cosmology
#1Jan 25Introduction to the courseCh.1class01.pdf
-Jan 27Snow day: class cancelled
#2Feb 01Geocentric cosmology and astronomyCh.2class02.pdf
#3Feb 03Renaissance empiricism and the heliocentric modelCh.2class03.pdf
#4Feb 08The Universe of physical law ICh.3class04.pdf
#5Feb 10The Universe of physical law II Ch.3class05.pdf
#6Feb 15The Universe beyond our Galaxy ICh.10class06.pdf
#7Feb 17The Universe beyond our Galaxy IICh.10class07.pdf
Part II: Relativity
#8Feb 22Special relativityCh.7class08.pdf
#9Feb 24Special relativityCh.7class09.pdf
#10Mar 01Special relativityCh.7class10.pdf
#11Mar 03General relativityCh.8class11.pdf
#12Mar 08General relativity Ch.8class12.pdf
#13Mar 10Black HolesCh.9class13.pdf
Part III: Modern Cosmology
#14Mar 15More on Black holes and Review for MidtermCh.9
- Mar 17Midterm Exam-
#15Mar 29Cosmological PrinciplesCh.10class14.pdf
#16Mar 31Geometry and evolution of the UniverseCh.11class14.pdf
#17Apr 05The Big Bang and early UniverseCh.12class15.pdf
Part IV: Contemporary Cosmology
#18Apr 07Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (CMB)Ch.12class16.pdf
#19Apr 12Where does matter come from?Ch.13class17.pdf
#20Apr 14Where does matter come from? ..cont Ch.13-
#21Apr 19Where did the elements come from?Ch.14class18.pdf
#22Apr 21Cosmological parameters and the need for dark matterCh.14class19.pdf
#23Apr 26What kind of universe do we live in?Ch.15class20.pdf
#24Apr 28Entropy and arrow of timeCh.15-
#25May 03Dark matter and cosmic structure formationCh.15 class21.pdf
#26May 05Cosmological inflationCh.16class22.pdf
#27May 10Review session -
- May 16Final Exam: 10:30am-12:30pm-

Course Grading

Final grades for this course will be computed based on cumulative points (out of 100 total) in the areas below, according to the weights listed: Final letter grades will be curved, based on the total points received. The minimum letter grade that you can obtain is You can get a better grade depending on the average performance of the class.

Homework will typically be assigned once a week, due the following week, and must be turned in at the beginning of class. You should expect about 7 assignments during the semester.

Midterm exam: There will be one in-class examination on the 17 March 2011. This exam will be closed book. The exam will consist of a section of short answer questions, followed by longer essay and problem solving questions.

Final exam: As per the University rules, the final exam for this course will be held on Monday the 16th of May 2011 between 10.30am-12.30pm in CSS2400. The final exam will cover all material discussed in this course. The format of the final exam will be the same as the midterm exam, with a section of short answer questions and a section of longer essay or problem solving questions.

Points will not be given for any ``extra credit projects.'' It is important to complete all the regular assignments to get the most you can out of the class!

Students with Special Needs

Students with a documented disability who wish to discuss academic accommodations should contact the professor as soon as possible.

Academic Integrity and excused absence

University regulations will apply regarding academic honesty and excused absences.

Students who are ill or have another valid excuse must explain the circumstances to the instructor before the due date of an assignment or exam, and then complete the work within the following week, in order to get full credit. Any illnesses or emergencies need to be properly documented.

The University of Maryland, College Park has a nationally recognized Code of Academic Integrity, administered by the Student Honor Council. University standards regarding academic integrity apply to all work performed for credit in this course, and as a student you are responsible for upholding these standards. Particulars of the University's Code are printed in the Undergraduate Catalog, and a description of what constitutes academic dishonesty is also given in the on-line Schedule of Classes. In brief, the Code requires that you must never engage in acts of academic dishonesty at any time. Acts of academic dishonesty include cheating, fabrication, plagiarism, or helping another person to do any of these things. Violation of the Code carries very serious consequences; for more information, please visit the Student Honor Council web site.

The rules regarding academic integrity apply to homework as well as to exams. As a part of these rules, you must give credit to any book, published article, or web page that you have used to help you with a particular assignment. These rules also apply to unpublished sources of information. In particular, students are encouraged to discuss assignments and other class material with each other, but every student must personally think through and write up his or her own answers to the homework questions. To further exhibit your commitment to academic integrity, remember to sign the Honor Pledge on all examinations and assignments:

"I pledge on my honor that I have not given or received any unauthorized assistance on this assignment/examination."


Homework will typically be assigned once a week, due the following week, and must be turned in at the beginning of class. You should expect about 6-7 assignments during the semester.

Homework will be considered late by the end of class and will no longer be accepted. If for some reason you cannot make it to class, you should either ask a friend/classmate to hand in your assignment for you, or make sure that it gets to the instructor beforehand.

If, for whatever reason, the University is officially closed on the due date for an assignment, the due date will be moved to the next lecture.

Useful Links